Has audience behaviour permanently changed post-Covid?
What changes would you like to see stick?
Since the start of the pandemic, there’s been big changes in the way we all engage and interact with our audiences. In the build up to AMA Conference 2021, we’ll be posing monthly polls and provocations to find out your views on what the events of the last year has meant for your relationship with your audiences.
For our first provocation, we asked both you and the AMA team for your views.
Responses on our social media showed that (combining both Twitter and Facebook polling) 77% agreed Audience Behaviour has been permanently changed by the pandemic – with 23% disagreeing.
Though most people think audience behavioural changes are permanent, there’s still a significant proportion who disagree. We took a deeper look to understand why.
The pandemic switched most arts and culture engagement online, and there is a concern that people have got used to this. The “live” experience is very different and some people who disagree that audience behaviour has changed permanently reference the desire for in-person experiences. Hybrid events can cater for a wider range of audiences – and our Head of Programme, Lucy Jamieson agrees. She feels that “even though many people will feel that an in the flesh experience is better than an online experience, online brings so much more possibility. I don’t have to travel, I don’t have to sort childcare, I don’t have to find the time, I can just log on. These are all thoughts ticking away as part of making a decision about how to ‘go to’ an event.”
One of the possibilities opened up by the online shift, identified in our recent AMA Member Panel, was that a lot of members mentioned the digital shift had enabled them to deliver more audiences, with many organisations extending their reach beyond their “usual area” – even internationally.
The Audience Agency’s Cultural Participation Monitor for June 2021 supported the view that audiences seem more open to new formats, including hybrid events. Key factors around convenience and the positives of cost saving are also important factors to consider for a number of audience groups, including those with caring responsibilities. Buying behaviours have changed, with a lot of our members reporting that events which are “unlimited access,” delivered online, tend to see more “last minute” bookings taking place. At AMA we have seen similar, with a recent day event having over 50 delegates sign up on the day itself.
In contrast, other members report that where events are “time-limited,” and people have to book timeslots ahead of time, audiences do seem prepared to commit ahead of time, and tickets for “physical” events are selling out quickly. In the short term, the indirect costs of enjoying cultural experiences could be a larger factor in the decision-making process when choosing between a digital or in-person event, with finances tightening for many due to the effects of the pandemic.
AMA CEO, Cath Hume feels that while behaviour may be changed in the short term, she believes there will be an adjustment in the longer term, saying “studies are showing that younger urban audiences are currently more likely to engage than older, more traditional audiences but as the pandemic subsides, or we learn to live with it, I think many of those audiences that are currently unsure will re-gain their confidence and return to our buildings.”
Whatever audience behaviour changes, we as a sector need to learn and adapt from what we’ve seen. There are some opportunities to reach new audiences and make arts and culture more accessible with the appetite for online consumption – some audiences may decide the online version, which they can enjoy from home, potentially in a more relaxed environment, suits them better. In this way, more people can be reached, creating opportunities to develop our audiences.
Looking more deeply into the type of changes of behaviour that we’re seeing – and the ones we’d like to see stick – we then posed a second statement, asking people to complete the sentence:
“The change to audience behaviour I would like to see stick after the pandemic is…”
“Patience, respect and understanding for Box Office and Front of House teams when we don’t get everything right all the time. I’ve noticed a massive shift in our audiences of respect and them being much calmer over the last 14-16 months as we’ve navigated this together, and hope that stays moving forward”.
Front of House Manager
Academy of Music and Theatre Arts, Falmouth University
“To continue to try out new things offered at their venue/s, whether that be digital content, community outreach projects or anything else that will help enhance their experiences at the venue and to strengthen their relationship with the venue.”
“People continuing to really shout about how much they love the cultural sector, and how important it is to their lives. People have been very vocal about how much they’ve missed engaging with the arts over the pandemic and I hope that public show of love for the sector continues just as strongly after the pandemic.”
Head of Projects and Events
Arts Marketing Association
“The change to audience behaviour I would like to see stick after the pandemic is the incredible support that people have shown to our sector during this time through donations and future bookings.”
Arts Marketing Association
It’s great to be able to take a moment to reflect on some of the positives that have come out of an enormously challenging period. It’s important that we continue to speak to audiences to ensure we are responding to their feedback, and making sure we’re reaching, engaging, and communicating with our audiences effectively. Join us at AMA Conference 2021, to find out how we can all work towards more “Change for Good”. Find out more about AMA Conference 2021 here.
Keen to learn more about Audience Behaviour?
If you can’t wait until October when our conference takes place, we’ve curated a selection of resources around the topic of Audience Behaviour on AMA Culturehive including Culture Restart audience research, an article on 17 things all arts marketers should do now to prepare for reopening, and a webinar on how to use the data from free analytics tools to plan digital content and engage audiences. All available on AMA Culturehive.